Chairs Homily – April 2023
This month we will be saying goodbye to one of our Sangha. Goodbyes are often sad occasions but this time it will be a joyful affair.
Mike Smith is leaving Ipswich at the end of April and will not return to us as Mike. He will return as a new being, with a new name. Yes Mike is off to be Ordained in the mountains of Spain. He will take part in a 3 month retreat that will prepare him for a life as an Order Member. On his return he will join our small band of Order members in Ipswich who teach and spread the dharma in this town.
Being ordained is not a goal for everyone who comes along to the Buddhist Centre, in fact most people who come along don’t ask for Ordination. So what is ordination in the Triratna Buddhist community you may ask?
Coming along to the Buddhist Centre for the first time is the start of a spiritual journey. That journey may not end in Buddhism and people often come to see what Buddhism has to offer them and whether it can answer their question about life and the experiences they have been having during their life. But if people do stay, then there is a clear pathway or progression that the Buddhist Centre offers as one’s understanding, interest and commitment blossoms.
We are all different, and our Sangha here in Ipswich does form a wonderfully diverse bunch of people. We are all different and are all seeking apparently different things. The Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha resonate with us even though they were given many thousands of years ago. Times may have changed, conditions may have altered, the world moves on but the human condition, our minds, how we think and feel have changed little. The Dharma gives us tools that help us move forward, forward to an understanding of ourselves and of the true nature of the world in which we live.
The steps we take in try to gain that understanding can sometimes be small and sometimes very big. One of those big steps is getting ordained.
We talk within Buddhism of our spiritual path in terms of Going for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Refuge is not a word we often use outside of Buddhism, but by ‘refuge’ we mean that we have come to realise that all things around us cannot be relied upon to provide safety and security, or as we term it ‘refuge’. The world around us is created from conditions and those conditions will change, so our world is very unstable. Sometimes in our life it seems like we are in an earthquake zone, with aftershocks striking us again and again, and nowhere offers stability. Maybe for a while we think things are stable but then some event happens and our world quickly collapses. So slowly, as awareness grows, we come to realise that all things change, and are impermanent so do not make a safe refuge, we cannot rely upon them for our mental or physical well-being. The Dharma offers that safe refuge in the form of a deep understanding of the nature of the world in which we live. We cannot stop the world from being unstable, but we can develop an internal confidence that is not shaken by all that the world throws at us.
As Buddhists we talk about deepening our Going for Refuge, taking on board, and understanding, the truths that are contained in the Dharma and how they apply to ourselves. There is also a deepening of our commitment to Triratna Buddhism as we come to appreciate what it has to uniquely offer us. That understanding, moves from conceptual, like ideas that we may learn from courses, classes or events at the Centre, to a deeper non-conceptual understanding, that is naturally displayed in our actions and behaviour, and we become a Buddhist, on a path to becoming a Buddha.
But we also come to realise that our success in life is not all about me, often our feeling of success or contentment is actually about those around us, whether they are close friends and relatives or people we don’t even know yet. This concern for others we call, the Bodhisattva Ideal, were we have a strong need to respond to the cries of the world and try to alleviate the suffering of those around us. This concern for others and the ability to help increases in step with our commitment to Buddhism, it is a natural and essential part of our own Going for Refuge, an integral part of what makes one an Order Member. This manifests in many ways but is best seen and fulfilled in communicating the Dharma to those around us, in our ‘Buddha-field’, which is often a Buddhist Centre, group or just to the people we are working with.
So these bigger steps in a person’s involvement with Buddhism are ritually celebrated like many events in a person’s life. The celebration you are probably most familiar with is when someone becomes a Mitra. This is the first great stage on the Going For Refuge scale, this stage is called ‘Provisional’ in the Triratna system. Here Buddhism, and especially Triratna Buddhism becomes part of your culture. You take on, and start to train in the five precepts, the principles of ethical behaviour. This step provisional in that the level of commit can be temporary, it is not a life long commitment. So you may decide in the future to follow another Buddhist path, another religion or give up on the spiritual path all together. But for now you are sure that this is the tradition in which you wish to grow and develop.
So once you have become a Mitra the next big step, should you wish to take it, is to become Ordained and join the Triratna Buddhist Order. On the scale of Going for Refuge this is called ‘Effective’. And make no mistake, this is a big step and can take many years of practise and training to achieve. This big step starts with a simple request, a request to be considered for Ordination. As well as a path of training, of retreats, of study, of a deepening ethical sensibility, that step of Ordination can also be seen as a deepening of friendships within the Buddhist sangha. A deepening of Spiritual friendships (Kalyana Mitrata) with individual Order Members and also the Triratna Order as a whole, across the whole world. Through these friendships, an understanding of what it means to be an Order Member develops. The Order Members are effective Buddhists, they are effective in leading a Buddhist life and also in transmitting Buddhism to a wider audience, in a manner that is relevant to each person that hears it.
The step that Mike is taking is a big one as Ordination can be seen as a death and rebirth. Mike will be re-born, with a new Buddhist name. A new name that will carry him forward and remind him of the Buddhist values to which he has committed himself. The Buddha ordained people into the emerging Buddhist Sangha. The Buddha in his day witnessed the committent and attainment of many that came to see him; their Going For Refuge to the three Jewels. So Mike, in his Ordination ceremony is being witnessed by a Dharmic descendant of the Buddha’s disciples, another Order Member who will be his Preceptor. An ordination lineage stretching back through thousands of years of human spiritual endeavour, a Going for Refuge passed on from teacher to disciple.
I hope I have been able to give you a small flavour of the step that Mike will be taking in the next few months. So please do come along to his leaving event on Thursday 20th April where we will hear from Mike about his personal journey to Ordination and we can also rejoice in his merits and wish him well for his next big step.
Finally, just thought I would mention that at the beginning of the month, Saturday 6th, there is an online event marking the founding of our movement. This is a great chance to appreciate the international nature of Triratna. The days begins with a meditation from the London Buddhist Centre and ends with a Puja from Mexico City Buddhist Centre. In between there will be inspiring talks and opportunities to speak to other Triratna Buddhists around the world. See https://thebuddhistcentre.com/stories/toolkit/roots/ for a full program.
Have a great month, see you soon.